Every preseason, pundits pinpoint a team they believe is primed for a breakout season. The make-up for such teams often follows a familiar pattern: coming off a late-season surge, returning a star player. The Arizona State Sun Devils check these boxes with standout, dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels leading the way after an impressive freshman campaign.
Daniels did his best work in the final month, most notably electrifying the nation under the spotlight of a College Football Playoff-implicated showdown with Oregon. The late-November win catapulted Daniels into preliminary 2020 Heisman Trophy conversations and established Arizona State as a Pac-12 dark horse to watch.
It's all aboard the Herm Edwards train, but the longtime former NFL coach has some new colleagues helping steer the engine. The Sun Devils face some uncertainty with three new coordinators — Zak Hill on offense and the tandem of Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce overseeing the defense — as well as replacing key pieces of the offense around Daniels.
The question marks about Arizona State's championship-worthiness should be answered early into a challenging schedule.
Arizona State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Sun Devils should be the biggest challenger to USC in the Pac-12 South. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is a rising star and is poised to take a big step forward as a sophomore. Daniels' supporting cast will require some retooling, but new coordinator Zak Hill will keep this offense performing at a high level. The defense also has a new set of play-callers in Antonio Pierce and Marvin Lewis, and there's plenty to build around with seven returning starters. The opener versus USC could decide which team wins the South, while getting Utah at home should be a huge plus for a program trending up under Edwards.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I love what Herm Edwards has been able to do out in Tempe in a short amount of time, and I am fully on board the Jayden Daniels train. However, Daniels must move on without Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk and that won't be easy, especially considering the schedule facing the Sun Devils. The defense has the potential to be pretty strong, but Arizona State also will be breaking in new coordinators on both sides of the ball without the benefit of a normal offseason. The Sun Devils will be a good team, but I don't think they'll be representing the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game this season.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Pretty much immediately, we'll get to see if Arizona State lives up to its preseason billing. The Sun Devils open at USC, where they've won two of the last three times. The Trojans are preseason favorites in the South, returning a stacked offense with one of the few freshmen to outshine Daniels during their 2019 campaigns, Kedon Slovis.
If Arizona State's retooled 4-3 defense can hold the USC Air Raid in check, it's a stark contrast for the next week's home opener against Cal. The Golden Bears' physicality makes for a much different challenge. Should the Sun Devils go 2-0 in that stretch, it could be the foundation for a title run. They can't survive 0-2, and 1-1 puts a heavy premium on a road trip to Colorado (the Buffaloes beat the Sun Devils a season ago) and a subsequent home date with two-time defending South champion Utah.
How Edwards and his staff replace talented running back Eno Benjamin and breakout star receiver Brandon Aiyuk will be of interest, especially early in the season. Equally intriguing is the pairing of co-coordinators Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, who bring two unique qualities to a defense with some difference-makers like Darien Butler, Merlin Robertson, and Jack Jones.